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Mugwumps

9/18/2014:

On this date in 1889, with only thirteen days remaining before the election to approve the state Constitution and choose North Dakota’s first state officials and legislators, the political parties were working at a frenzied pace. Local, county and district conventions were combined to promote the candidates chosen at the state conventions and to expedite the selection of local legislative candidates. Time was of the essence. With gubernatorial candidate John Miller and Congressional hopeful Henry Hansbrough serving as the nucleus, Republican campaigners crisscrossed the state, speaking at rallies and conventions. The Democratic strongholds in the northeast were heavily targeted, and over thirty rallies were attended.

The whirlwind tour was beginning to pay dividends. The Farmers Alliance newspaper, published in Valley City, announced that it was now Republican, supporting the candidacy of John Miller as the Farmer’s candidate. The Democratic members of the Alliance countered that Miller was a glorified accountant who wouldn’t know a wheelbarrow from a seeder. Campaign rhetoric was heating up, but in the age of Victorian morality, one had to be careful. When Herbert Root of Valley City used profanity in describing S. S. Hitman during a heated political altercation, he was arrested, taken to court and fined twenty dollars and costs. Libel and slander were commonplace, but profanity wouldn’t be tolerated.

In the eastern part of the state, especially the Red River Valley, party politics were stringently observed. When The Park River Gazette , a Republican newspaper, announced its support for a local favorite, Democrat Clinton Lord, who was running for the office of state treasurer, it raised the ire of the editor of the Fargo Argus . “It is an insult to the state convention that made the ticket,” snarled the editor, “It is a guerrilla stab at an unoffending candidate, (and) an assassin-like act at which no honorable man can be guilty.”

In the western, less populated areas, they were more likely to support the individual than obey strict party lines. Disgruntled with party choices, the Democrats and Republicans in Dickinson united and nominated William Ray, a Democrat for the Senate, and Republican A. W. Merrifield for the House. They were branded as Mugwumps, political slang stemming from the 1884 Presidential election and used to denounce Republicans who bolted across party lines to elect Grover Cleveland.

The state’s lone Representative in Congress would be elected by popular vote in the October 1st election, however, the first act of the legislature would be the selection of North Dakota’s two Senators. Strict observance of party politics was crucial to the Republicans to ensure an overwhelming majority in the new legislature. Crossing party lines threatened that majority. Mugwumpery could not be allowed.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis

Sources:

The Bismarck Tribune September 20, 1889

Grand Forks Weekly Herald September 27, 1889

North Dakota Capital September 20, 1889

Jamestown Weekly Alert September 5, 1889